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Arc7 shuttle tanker loading crude oil at the Arctic Gate terminal. (GazpromNeft Shipping)

Arc7 shuttle tanker loading crude oil at the Arctic Gate terminal. (GazpromNeft Shipping)

Crude Oil Shipments Return to Arctic as Russia Sends Tanker To Asia

Malte Humpert
Total Views: 1821
June 20, 2024

By Malte Humpert (gCaptain) –

Russia looks set to continue using the Arctic Ocean as a shortcut to deliver crude oil to Asia. 

Even before the beginning of summer navigation season in July, transit shipments of crude have returned to the Russian Arctic. Shuttle tanker Shturman Skuratov, originating in Murmansk, entered the Northern Sea Route on June 18 headed to the Far East.

AIS currently designates Port of Kozmino near Vladivostok as the journey’s end on July 20, though that may not be the vessel’s final destination. The 41,401 dwt Shturman Skuratov can carry around 200,000 barrels of oil. 

During last summer’s shipping season oil tankers carried 1.5 million tonnes of crude across the Arctic Ocean to a number of ports in China, including Ningbo, Tianjin, and Huizhou. Russian officials aim to more than double those volumes to 3-4 million tonnes for 2024.

The voyage by Shturman Skuratov comes around 6 weeks earlier than last year’s initial oil shipment at the end of July, confirming Russia’s ambitions to carry greater volumes along the route this season.

Crude oil is routinely carried in ice-capable shuttle tankers from points of production in the Gulf of Ob and the Pechora Sea to transshipment points near Murmansk. 

But direct transits from west to east were exceedingly rare prior to 2023. When EU Sanctions rendered the European market off-limits to Russian crude, the country began redirecting a small share of its Arctic production to Asia. 
Voyages originated at the Umba FSO in Kola Bay near Murmansk as well as the Baltic ports of Primorsk and Ust-Luga.

AIS tracks of Shturman Skuratov over the past several months. The vessel is now beginning its journey east through the Kara Sea toward Asia. (Source: GoRadar)
AIS tracks of Shturman Skuratov over the past several months. The vessel is now beginning its journey east through the Kara Sea toward Asia. (Source: GoRadar)

Much to the dismay of environmentalists, last summer saw the first-ever use of conventional oil tankers in the Arctic. Throughout the summer non ice-class Suezmax oil tankers completed multiple voyages carrying product to China. While Arctic sea ice has retreated formidably over the past decade, conditions can remain unpredictable in higher latitudes. 

As sea ice retreats during summer the route can be mostly ice-free by some time in July, at which point non ice-class vessels are permitted along the route. Vessels without ice-classification can travel on the route between July 1 and November 15 in ice-free waters or in light ice conditions, if escorted by an icebreaker.

Shturman Skuratov is designed as a year-round shuttle tanker in service of GazpromNeft Shipping. It carries oil produced at the company’s Novoportovskoye oil field in southern Yamal and the Arctic Gates terminal to the Umba FSO. 

With a high Arc7 ice-class designation Shturman Skuratov may operate independently along the entire length of the Northern Sea Route. Based on AIS data the vessel appears to attempt the transit without icebreaker escort. Ice conditions along the route will be most challenging in the East Siberian Sea where almost continuous first-year ice coverage remains. 

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